Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 8/26/12

The fourth grand slam of the year is finally upon us. After such a hectic post-Wimbledon tour schedule, the ATP’s best are seasoned, grizzled, and ready to give it one last go. Rafael Nadal’s arthritic knees have created a gaping hole in the draw, with one semifinalist guaranteed to not be a part of the big four. All four sections of the draw have some promising early round match-ups, and we should be prepared for some drama on America’s biggest stage.

Top Quarter

Rechristened with the number one ranking in the world, Roger Federer sits atop the US Open draw. He opens against Donald Young, an American headcase who recently won his first match in almost half a year. Roger has some interesting match up possibilities. He could face the enigmatic Fernando Verdasco in the third round, the heartwarming Mardy Fish in the round of 16 (after a comeback from heart issues), and Tomas Berdych in the Quarters. Berdych has been playing extremely poorly as of late, but has beaten Federer in a slam. Still, I see the big Czech player losing early, and another American on the comeback trail, Sam Querrey, taking his place against Federer in the quarters. Federer still won’t have too much trouble with anyone in this quarter, and should breeze to the semis.

Semifinalist Pick: Roger Federer

Early Round Match to Watch: (23) Mardy Fish vs (16) Gilles Simon (third round)

Second Quarter

Roger Federer did not luck out with his possible semifinal match-up, though. Andy Murray landed on the top half of the draw, and he sets up a possible Olympic/Wimbledon finals re-match on Super Saturday. Andy doesn’t have a terribly difficult road to the semifinals: but he could face off against young gun Milos Raonic in the round of 16, and the electric Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in the quarters. James Blake is still around in this quarter, but don’t expect the American to hang around too long, this should be his last US Open. Another player to watch could be Marin Cilic. The lanky Croat has been playing workmanlike tennis the past few months, and could make a push toward the quarters or semis.

Semifinalist Pick: Andy Murray

Early Round Match to Watch: (17) Kei Nishikori vs (12) Marin Cilic (third round)

Third Quarter

This would have been Nadal’s quarter. Instead, David Ferrer is the highest seed in the section, and a lot of players have an opportunity they normally wouldn’t have to get to the semis. Ferrer is a great player in his own right, and is coming off a quarterfinal appearance at Wimbledon. It wouldn’t be shocking to see the feisty spaniard to reach the semis, but there are other intriguing options. Janko Tipsarevic is less talked about than his fellow countryman Novak Djokovic, but he’s sitting nicely at number eight in the world. John Isner is America’s best hope for a semifinals appearance, he reached the quarters at Flushing Meadows last summer, and he could face Tipsarevic in the round of 16. Other players to note are the puzzling but talented Richard Gasquet, the rising talent in Grigor Dimitrov, and the latvian conundrum in Ernests Gulbis. All three of those players could be considered dark horse picks to reach a semi. I’m going to be patriotic here and go with Isner as this quarter’s survivor.

Semifinalist Pick: John Isner

Early Round Match to Watch: Ernests Gulbis vs Tommy Haas (21) (first round)

Bottom Quarter

Djokovic may not have to face Federer or Murray until the finals, but that does not mean he has an easy draw. The Serb could go up against Alex Dolgopolov in the fourth round, and the latter played inspired tennis for a set and a half against Djokovic at Flushing Meadows last year. Juan Martin Del Potro lurks in the quarters, but the big Argentine may be held back by a left injury. It’s hard to see Del Potro making another 2009 style Open run, but after a bronze at the Olympics (beating Djokovic in the process), that potential quarterfinal match up is the most intriguing to keep an eye on. Andy Roddick also is in this quarter, and could be making his last US Open appearance. The 2003 US Open champion is seeded 20th, and could potentially be upset by funky Australian Bernard Tomic in the second round.

Semifinalist Pick: Novak Djokovic

Early Round Match to Watch: (20) Andy Roddick vs Bernard Tomic (second round)

Semifinals/Finals Predictions

Djokovic and Federer advance. Djokovic takes out Federer, and becomes the undisputed hard court king.

-Fitzburgh

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